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Meillon, John (1934–1989)

by Nigel Giles

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

John Meillon, n.d.

John Meillon, n.d.

John Meillon (1934-1989), actor, was born on 1 May 1934 at Mosman, Sydney, eldest of three children of Sydney-born parents Theodor Boesan Meillon, clerk, and his wife Florence Beatrice 'Jill', née Callaghan.  John was educated at Mosman Church of England Preparatory and Sydney Grammar schools.  As a child he performed at the Mosman Children’s Theatre Club, of which his parents were founding members.

In 1944 Meillon made his radio début in the Australian Broadcasting Commission’s 'Bush Christmas'.  He played an Aboriginal boy in 'The Search for the Golden Boomerang' on 2UW.  Subsequently he appeared in many other ABC children’s serials including 'The Gangos', 'Land of the Rainbow' and 'Budge’s Gang'.  Other radio work comprised the 'Cadbury Show' and the title role in Ruth Park’s 'Stumpy' in 1947.  That year he received praise for his role as Young David in 'David Copperfield' on 2CH; he also played Jim Hawkins in 'Treasure Island'.  He acted in various radio plays and series, among them 'Rebecca', 'On the Waterfront' and Australia’s longest-running serial 'Blue Hills', which began in 1949.

Meillon had made his stage début in 1946 as Master Wakefield in Whiteoaks at the Independent Theatre.  His first professional performance was in 1948, with the title role in The Winslow Boy at the Minerva Theatre, Kings Cross.  He performed (1951-52) with the John Alden Shakespearian Company in productions such as King Lear and The Merchant of Venice.  Returning to the Independent, he played in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman and Clifford Odets’ Winter Journey.  In 1956 he toured Australia and New Zealand in J. C. Williamson’s production of The Reluctant Debutante and in 1958 appeared opposite June Salter in the Phillip Street revue Cross Section.  He married her on 21 June 1958 at St James’s Church of England, Sydney.

The couple travelled to England, where Meillon continued to work on stage, as well as in television and on films such as Billy Budd (1962), Guns at Batasi (1964) and 633 Squadron (1964).  He returned to Australia in 1964 to appear on stage in Rattle of a Simple Man opposite Salter.  Though their marriage ended in divorce in 1971 they remained friends.  On 5 April 1972 at Crows Nest Methodist Church Meillon married English-born actress Rita (Bunny) Gibson.

Meillon’s film career had begun in 1959 with a cameo role in On the Beach; his next film was The Sundowners (1960).  In 1966 he took the role of Dennis in They’re a Weird Mob; he had starred (1958) as Nino in a serialised radio version.  He appeared in more than twenty local features including Walkabout (1971), Wake in Fright (1971), The Cars That Ate Paris (1974), Ride a Wild Pony (1975), The Picture Show Man (1977), Heatwave (1982), The Wild Duck (1983), Crocodile Dundee (1986), Crocodile Dundee II (1988) and The Everlasting Secret Family (1988).  In 1977 he received the Australian Film Institute award for best actor for his portrayal of James Casey in The Fourth Wish, having won (1975) a Logie award for his role in the television series of the same name.

With lead roles in 'Thunder of Silence' and 'A Tongue of Silver' for Channel 7, Meillon started on television in 1959.  He became a household name in the 1960s playing Wally Stiller in the comedy series 'My Name’s McGooley—What’s Yours?' and the sequel 'Rita and Wally'.  Although Meillon shied away from ongoing roles in television serials, he guest starred in many popular series including 'Skippy', 'Homicide', 'Division 4' and 'Spyforce'.  He played a memorable character in JNP Production’s 'A Country Practice', on which his brother, the director Robert (Bob) Meillon, also worked.

Meillon received a Logie award in 1979 for his performance in 'Bit Part'.  Other ABC productions included 'Over There', 'Lane End' and Robert Caswell’s acclaimed mini-series 'Scales of Justice'.  In the 1980s he played Governor-General Sir John Kerr in Byron Kennedy and George Miller’s 'The Dismissal' and Brigadier-General Ian Templeton in 'The Dunera Boys'.  Television commercials for Berger Paints NSW Pty Ltd and Carlton and United Breweries made Meillon’s face and voice recognisable across Australia.  In 1979 he was appointed OBE.

At 16 Meillon had been junior diving champion of New South Wales.  He continued to enjoy swimming, as well as fishing, golf and pub culture.  Survived by his wife and his son from his first marriage, he died of cirrhosis of the liver on 10 August 1989 at his home at Neutral Bay and was cremated.  He was awarded the Raymond Longford lifetime achievement award posthumously.

Select Bibliography

  • R. Lane, The Golden Age of Australian Radio Drama (1994)
  • J. Salter, A Pinch of Salt (1995)
  • B. Gibson and F. Gauntlett, Thanks a Meillon! (2006).

Additional Resources

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Nigel Giles, 'Meillon, John (1934–1989)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/meillon-john-14959/text26148, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 15 November 2019.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

View the front pages for Volume 18

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